Initial reaction: And this, ladies and gentlemen, is how you write a fun dystopian book with loads of pop culture/gaming references. I loved this from beginning to end and Wil Wheaton’s narration of the audiobook was flawless. Certainly among my favorite reads of this past year.
Truthfully, there’s not another book quite like “Ready Player One” out there – it builds upon an interesting dystopian realm within a game-oriented environment, combining the experience with a smorgasbord of references from the decade that I was born in. I was born in the mid 1980s – but surprisingly I knew just about every reference woven into the context of the storyline from that decade and then some. I’m a complete and total media geek (books, games, anime, music, movies, etc.), and this book seems like it’s well suited for those who are. Surprisingly, however, I don’t think you have to be one to enjoy this novel. It wasn’t that Cline threw out these references in abundance in this work to the point where a reader may be overwhelmed with them – he actually used many of them as important plot points in the story and to build upon the characterization of those depicted in the work. This is the kind of development that I like to see in a story. If people are wanting a book that uses references to music, movies, or any kind of media in an intimate, engrossing and constructive format – this book is a great example. For me, it wasn’t just the nostalgia kick that allowed me to enjoy this – it took me on a rollercoaster ride filled with action and very real stakes in the life of the viewpoint character, with some remarkable character development and twists in the process. Add in a realistic romantic sub-plot, excellent worldbuilding and depiction of the online gaming environment, and a journey aspect that keeps the tension going to the end of the book – and you have the experience that is this novel. I’m getting ahead of myself a little, so I think I’ll start with recapping the storyline and expounding on that for a bit.
“Ready Player One” is the story of a young gamer named Wade Owen Watts, who like many is an avid player among the massive online environment of The Oasis. One could say that The Oasis is the framework of life among those living in the environment. The Oasis was created by James Halliday, and following the death of Mr. Halliday, a worldwide contest is launched for the one who is able to find an “easter egg” hidden in the vast environment of his online creation. The one who finds it is set to inherit Halliday’s massive fortune. Obviously, this has many parties – good and malicious – vying for the prize, but Wade’s determined to see it through to the end, alongside a colorful cast of fellow gamers he encounters along the way.
Wade’s online identity is Parzival, which allows him to be a separate entity from the real world where his weight among other factors aren’t used to tease and taunt him for what he’s able to do in the Oasis. Parzival becomes a leader of sorts when he’s able to make a discovery no one else has after some time has passed in Halliday’s contest – and that puts him on a pedestal in the eyes of other gamers as well as sets him as a target of I.O.I. – a group that wants to claim Halliday’s fortune for themselves and manipulate the Oasis environment for their own use. The I.O.I. tries to charm Wade into working for them (but Wade is not so easily goaded), and the result of Wade’s refusal with the group proves dangerous and deadly. Now he’s on a race against time and antagonistic efforts. Not only does Wade have to beat his competition into getting towards the next steps in finding the egg, he also has to contend with real world attempts on his life and those within the game, as instituted by the I.O.I. In the end, Wade’s quest proves a harrowing journey with many revelations that allow him to grow from both the gains and losses along the way.
I really appreciated the level of detail and investment Cline put into this novel. I could definitely see the parallels to Blade Runner among other awesome references to the movies “WarGames” and several of John Hughes flicks, among several gaming and media references. It satisfied my longing for a great dystopic, sci-fi journey that also wove in other genre elements to keep it diverse and rich in its construction. I think my enjoyment of the novel was enhanced with Wil Wheaton’s voice and portrayals in the audiobook, because he delivers every bit of the journey with due conviction and humor through Wade’s quest.
Overall, I would highly recommend “Ready Player One” – it’s an excellent, enthralling journey that I couldn’t help but enjoy in more ways than one.
Overall score: 5/5